The corporate owner of the 4,000-acre Camden property required for the county’s spaceport project is no longer negotiating with the county for the land.
In a statement released Thursday, Union Carbide Corp. indicated Camden voters’ rejection of the land deal spelled the end of the county’s seven-year pursuit of the marsh-front property. The county has vowed to continue fighting its own voters’ mandate.
“Through the Camden County residents’ March 8, 2022 referendum vote, Camden County repudiated the County’s Option Agreement with Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) to purchase the Company’s Woodbine, Georgia property,” the statement from the Union Carbide Information Center reads. “As a result, there is no longer an Option Agreement in existence between the County and UCC, and UCC does not intend to convey the property to the County pursuant to the prior Option Agreement. UCC remains committed to ensuring the long-term conservation value of the property.”
Camden County has spent more than $11 million to develop its Spaceport Camden to launch small commercial rockets up to 12 times a year. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the county a spaceport operator’s license in December but hat license is the subject of a lawsuit conservation groups filed against the FAA, saying it should never have been issued. The land purchase also stands in the way of further development. In the petition-driven special election referendum in March, voters rejected the land purchase by a 3-1 margin.
County Commissioners did not earmark any money for Spaceport Camden in the county’s current budget and has pursued private investment to keep the project alive. Still, the response to the Union Carbide statement came from the county’s external litigation counsel, the Atlanta-based Robbins firm, whose website boasts, “We’ve learned the most creative and effective solutions come from an irreverent perspective as well as a healthy disrespect for the standard formulas.”
Robbins issued a statement in response to Union Carbide Thursday:
“Union Carbide most certainly has a contract with Camden. The County has indicated that it is ready, willing and able to close. We expect Union Carbide to honor its contractual commitments. We have advised Union Carbide of our position.
“As we have stated before, we do not believe the referendum was legally proper. We believe the Supreme Court will agree with the County.”
The county has challenged the referendum in court, arguing that the referendum was invalid. The Georgia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the matter Aug. 23.
The back and forth between the Union Carbide and the county echoes the positions the two sides have stated since the referendum.
Spaceport opponents, including the nonprofit advocacy group One Hundred Miles, have long sought more transparency about the project, but the county has cited the state’s real estate exemption to the Open Records and Open Meetings Act as a reason to keep secret the details of its dealings with Union Carbide.
The county’s option contract to buy the property dates back to 2015 and has been extended repeatedly. Its most recent extension expired earlier this month. One Hundred Miles is part of an ongoing lawsuit to force the county to reveal those records.
On July 15 the county responded to an Open Records request from The Current with a redacted version of the contract.
“At this time, all other documents are exempt from disclosure in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 50‐18‐72 (a) (9),” wrote County Clerk Katie Bishop. “Real estate appraisals, engineering or feasibility estimates, or other records made for or by the state or a local agency relative to the acquisition of real property are exempt from disclosure until such time as the property has been acquired or the proposed transaction has been terminated or abandoned.”
One Hundred Miles President and CEO Megan Desrosiers praised Union Carbide Thursday for standing with voters.
“The voters sent a strong message on March 8th, The officials who they elected to represent them chose ignore it and move forward anyway,” she wrote in an email. “Thank goodness UCC decided to be the voice of reason and put an end to a project Camden County residents clearly did not want.”